Kale: Queen of the Greens
by Cathe Olson
Just about any book or article on nutrition recommends eating more leafy green vegetables. Yoga dietetics advise eating greens every day for optimum health. Well, kale is one of the most nourishing of all the greens—I called it the ‘Queen of the Greens.’
Unlike spinach or chard, kale doesn’t contain oxalic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing calcium. Kale is the richest of the greens in the phytochemical lutein. Known mostly for its prevention of eye disease, lutein is now thought to be more protective against cancer than beta-carotein. Kale is also one of the highest sources of antioxidant flavonoids which help ward off heart disease and regulate blood pressure.
Kale has many benefits for women. It helps regulate estrogen, and wards off many forms of cancer including breast. The calcium in kale is more absorbable than the calcium in milk so it helps protect against osteoporosis, arthritis, and bone loss. Before and during pregnancy, kale supplies important minerals like calcium and iron. It also provides folic acid which is necessary for proper development of the baby’s nervous system. While nursing, kale and other leafy greens increase breastmilk supply.
Children grow and develop at a rapid rate. Proper nutrition is vital. Kale is extremely rich in vitamin A—essential for visual and immune functions. One cup of kale has as much vitamin C as an orange. It provides as much calcium as the equivalent amounts of cow’s milk making it an excellent food for vegans.
With all these benefits, why isn’t everybody eating kale? Many people don’t know what kale looks like or how to select it. They don’t know how to store kale, so it goes bad before they have a chance to eat it. Most disappointing is when they buy and cook kale, but nobody likes it.
Following are easy ways to select, store, and prepare kale. If your family still won’t eat it, I’ll share tips for adding kale to dishes you already eat in ways that nobody will notice.
Kale is available year round but is especially good in the winter because the cold makes it sweeter. Kale comes in bunches of long, dark green leaves. The most common variety is curly around the edges. I prefer the smoother varieties like “dinosaur” or “red russian” because they are mellower when lightly steamed or added to a stir-fry.
Buy kale that is kept in a chilled display case or on ice. Kale will wilt and become bitter if left in a warm place for a long period of time. Look for fresh, green leaves. They should not be yellow, brown, or wilted. Choose the smaller, more tender leaves over the large, coarser ones. In the spring and summer, get some young kale at your farmer’s markets that can be tossed raw into salads (or grow it yourself).
Place unwashed kale in a plastic bag and keep it in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for up to a week. Bear in mind, however, the taste becomes stronger with prolonged storage. For extended preservation, wash and dry kale well. Mince or chop by hand or in a food processor. Place kale in a bag or container and freeze. Minced, frozen kale can be used just like raw kale since it thaws almost instantly.
Even organic kale should be washed as it may have dirt or grit stuck to the leaves. The easiest way is to fill your sink or a basin with cold water and swish the kale around. Remove the kale and drain. Repeat if necessary until kale is clean.
Break or cut off tough stems. Curly-leaf kale may have a thick midrib (the stem extending up the leaf) that you will want to remove. Fold the leaf in half, vein side out and slice down the length of the rib with a sharp knife. Smaller leaves and smooth varieties have thin ribs that can be chopped and cooked with the leaves.
Kale can be steamed, blanched, boiled, braised, stir-fried, or sautéed. It doesn’t need to be cooked long—just until it’s wilted and tender. Usually 5 to 10 minutes is enough depending on how small you chop it and how thick the leaves are. Kale cooks down significantly. Figure about two cups cooked for every pound of raw kale.
Kale is delicious seasoned with brown rice or umeboshi vinegar, natural soy sauce, tamari, or toasted sesame oil. I love kale in a stir-fry or tossed with pasta, minced garlic, and olive oil. Kale can be substituted for spinach or cabbage in most dishes. Try chopped kale in lasagna. It’s delicious!
Most kids and many adults don’t like the chewy texture of kale. Don’t despair, they can still eat their kale and like it too. I have a secret to getting my family to eat lots of kale. I mince it up like parsley. After washing the kale, dry it well with a salad spinner or towel. Mince it very fine. It just takes seconds in a food processor. Then you can put kale in just about anything.
Minced kale can be added to pasta, potato, bean, tofu, or vegetable salads. It adds color, as well as nutrition. Stir minced kale into soups, stews, rice, or sauces. Add it to scrambled tofu, sprinkle it on pizza, or stuff it in a burrito. The possibilities are endless.
To save time, I mince a whole batch of kale and then store it in the freezer (see Storage). It’s easy to just break off a chunk as you need it. Although, the kale will suffer a slight nutrient loss, the convenience will make you more likely to use the kale.
My other kale secret is to add raw kale to smoothies. Kale blends right in and is virtually tasteless if you just add a leaf or two. I haven’t met many kids who won’t drink a fruit smoothie so I always sneak in a little extra nutrition.
Here are some recipes we love.
We call this dish “Hotdog Soup”. Kids love the creamy potatoes and veggie dog chunks.
6 medium potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
6 cups water or vegetable broth
1 cup minced kale
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup powdered soymilk dissolved in 1/2 cup water
6 Tofu Pups or other vegetarian hot dogs, sliced
1 tablespoon miso
Black pepper to taste
Place potatoes, garlic, celery, salt, and bay leaf in large pot with water or broth. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Remove bay leaf. Add kale, nutritional yeast, and soymilk powder. Mash until smooth. Stir in hot dogs. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in miso and pepper.
Makes 6 servings
Pasta with Vegetables and Pine Nuts
This is a lovely light dinner full of colorful vegetables that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. The leftovers are great for lunch the next day.
1 pound penne pasta, cooked and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large carrot, sliced (1/4 inch)
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons minced fresh
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
While pasta is cooking, place 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet with garlic, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale. Stir gently and cover pan. Steam 10 to 15 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender. Add a little water if necessary to prevent vegetables from scorching. Drain pasta and place in large bowl. Add cooked vegetables, pine nuts, basil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Toss gently.
Makes 8 servings
Variation: Add 2 cups diced tofu, tempeh, or seitan with vegetables.
My kids could eat rice at every meal. This dish ensures that they eat enough vegetables, too.
1 cup brown rice
1 medium zucchini, diced or grated
1 carrot, grated
1/3 cup minced kale
2 1/4 cups water
Place all ingredients in pan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes, or until water is absorbed.
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Creamy Greens Smoothie
This smoothie surprises everyone because it tastes so good. You really don’t taste the kale at all. This is an excellent snack while breastfeeding because the greens help to increase milk production. Use nutritional yeast flakes fortified with vitamin B12.
1 cup pineapple-coconut juice
1 banana, sliced and frozen
2 to 3 kale leaves
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes (optional)
Place ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.
Makes 1 to 2 servings
Note: 1/2 cup pineapple juice and 1/2 cup light coconut milk can be substituted for pineapple-coconut juice.
Recipes adapted from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook copyright © 2005 and Simply Natural Baby Food copyright © 2003 by Cathe Olson.